Radish Clarinet

A Telegraph journalist once described this as sounding like a mating camel, but don’t let that put you off making one of the loudest and effective vegetable instruments.

Difficulty of construction: starstarstarstarstar (5 stars hardest, 1 star easiest)

Video of Prof. Trevor Cox demonstrating how to make a radish clarinet also available to download in quicktime or windows media player format

Radish Clarinet

Ingredients

  • 1x Medium to large daikon - japanese white radish - or another vegetable you can drill into a tube roughly 3-4cm in diameter
  • 1x Kitchen Knife
  • 1x 10mm drill to making the tone holes (fingering holes) or cork borer
  • 1x Longish drill bit, say 14-15mm, long enough to drill a hole lengthways through the veg.
  • 1x 20mm drill to widen the bore at the bottom to allow for the funnel (bell)
  • 1x funnel, to form the flared bell at the end
  • Elastic bands to hold the reed on
  • A piece of plastic for the reed e.g. a piece from a washing up liquid bottle.
Radish Clarinet

Taking great care, drill out the bore using the 14-15mm drill. You will need to blow through to clear the drill debris. Then drill through the side of the vegetable to make the fingering holes using the 10mm bit. In terms of distance from the bottom of the radish the centres of the holes are at: 5.2, 7.4, 9.7, 11.3, 14.2, 17, 19.1mm. Notice the first hole is slightly out of line compared to the other holes. This makes fingering easier because your little finger is shorter than your other fingers. Again clear out the drill debris. Use the 20mm drill to enlarge the hole where the funnel goes.

NB: If you can’t get a long enough piece of veg use two pieces of hard (root) vegetable and join with a short 4-5cm piece of copper pipe inside the bore.

Make the mouthpiece. Using a sharp knife make a diagonal cut at about 30 degrees. Cut a piece of plastic to act as the reed. This will need to be about 2x4cm. Attach this to the end of the vegetable using elastic bands. Vegetables are slippery and so you might have to use several bands. Cutting a notch in the back of the mouthpiece to stop the bands slipping If necessary.

Now comes the tricky bit! The purpose of the reed is to break up the constant flow of air from your lungs, and the reed does this by shutting and opening. When you blow, the air is forced down the bore past the small gap left by the reed. As the air moves faster to get through the small gap this causes a drop in pressure (this is Bernoulli's principle). We therefore have a lower pressure under the reed than on top of it, and so the reed is forced to be closed. The reed is, however, elastic and so springs open again. The problem is getting this vibrating reed to work - it takes time and patience. First time it took about 20 minutes for me to shape it right, I can now do it in a couple of minutes after much practice.

Radish Clarinet

If the reed slams shut and doesn't reopen, try bending the plastic back so it has more spring in it so it can more easily flip open.

If you don't get a note but just a rushing sound, it means the reed isn't closing the bore off properly. You may need to adjust (by cutting) the shape of the opening. It might be that sound is leaking around the edge of the reed, and then it might be you just have to readjust how the reed is being held by the elastic bands or use a slightly wider reed. It might be that the slice wasn't done cleanly enough, and the reed is being prevented from closing properly by hitting a small protuberance in the veg or there is a gouge letting air escape.

You will find that adjusting your embouchure (how you lips press on the mouthpiece) will help in getting a note. By changing the force that your lower lip applies to the reed, you adjust how easily the reed opens and closes.

Keep playing with the design until you get a good loud squawk. You will have to work hard with your lips to keep this in tune.